Last season, Team Helios stood atop the podium as the winners of the 2022 Major League Show Jumping (MLSJ) season. Though their odds of winning a second season title in a row weren’t high, they still made sure they had the last word, winning the final leg of the tour in the $571,000CAD MLSJ Team Competition, presented by Visit Greater Palm Springs.

The team was the only one to come home on a completely clear sheet, with all three riders, Karl Cook (USA), Ashlee Bond (ISR), and Erynn Ballard (CAN) jumping clear efforts in round one. That set them up supremely to shine in round two, where Cook and Ballard jumped two fast clears, putting them in the jump-off for gold.

All the pressure came down on Bond, who brought forth her trusty partner Donatello 141. With a footspeed not yet seen in the evening’s class, Bond set the fastest time of any rider, and only McLain Ward (USA) of the Roadrunners had the chance to challenge it. With a rail down by Ward and First Lady, the win went to Helios in the final leg of the MLSJ tour.

Ashlee Bond (ISR) and Donatello 141. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

“Donnie was perfect,” Bond reflected on her winning jump-off. “It was just forward from start to finish. Everything showed up right on that forward gallop and the turns were great and he was right there with me. I don’t think I left much room, so I was very proud.”

Team Helios felt like the comeback kids under the lights Saturday night. They had slipped in the rankings, but they knew they could come out and win. “I’m hugely proud,” Bond said of her team’s performance. “We all came out with our best horses and we’re all really fast riders. We wanted to win tonight and that’s exactly what we did. We came back and finished third overall so I was really proud of us.”

With Helios in the gold medal position, the DIHP Roadrunners took the silver medal, and the Trelawny Trailblazers took bronze. With the bronze medal finish, it was plenty to secure the Trailblazers the overall season title, never placing below fourth in any team competition throughout the year.

Team Helios topped the $571,000 MLSJ Team Competition. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

“I’m excited we came home with the championship,” remarked Trailblazer Lillie Keenan (USA). “It was a lot of fun to ride as a Trailblazer this year and I’m really proud to ride with these teammates. We finished strong.”

Darragh Kenny (IRL) put in strong performances every time he stepped out for the Trailblazers. “It was amazing,” he said of the season overall. “We did an incredible job, everybody on the team. It was really fun. We were very consistent and that led to the overall win. I think we have a very serious shot next year. We have a sturdy team and Cara [Raether] is doing an incredible job. She manages it great and she did a super job with all of us. We’re very thankful for her.”

Nayel Nassar (EGY) was fresh off a win in Friday night’s CSI5* Grand Prix and third place in the CSI2* Grand Prix just earlier Saturday, so his confidence carried him to a double-clear performance for the Trailblazers.

The Trelawny Trailblazers took the overall win for the 2023 MLSJ season. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

“You’re only as good as what you’re riding and we always pull out the horses that are best suited for this class,” Nassar expressed. “I’m always competing with incredible riders which makes my job easier. It’s been an incredible season and we’re really happy to come home with the championship. We’ll start strategizing for next year.”

Though the Roadrunners took second place overall for the season, they still got a win Saturday night with Cathleen Driscoll (USA) taking the MVP award. She landed the Roadrunners on the podium every time she competed, helping them to two of their victories.

“I am fortunate to have a fabulous horse in Flotylla,” Driscoll said of her horse she rode in all the team classes. “She goes better with a little speed anyway, but she’s really stepped up beautifully in these 1.50m classes this year. It’s been great for her and it’s been great for me as well. It’s been a learning experience. I don’t have a lot of team experience so I’m learning to handle the pressure. I’m very grateful for the people who helped me get here and I’m super glad I was able to put in good performances all year. It’s an elite group of riders in this league and it’s a privilege to get to sit here tonight.”

Cathleen Driscoll won the MLSJ season MVP award, pictured with MLSJ co-founders Matt Morrissey and Keean White. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Steve Hankin, President and CEO of DIHP, proudly witnessed the venue host two $1 million finals in two weeks, and his team came very close to the win on the final night of action.

“The team is great,” he said of the DIHP Roadrunners. “We got off to a rough start with a couple injuries. On paper we were supposed to come in second and tried to give them a run for their money. The second half we really came on strong and we almost got there. It’s a ton of fun and the team did amazing. I feel great about the team and next year we’ll be sitting on the other side.”

Keean White, MLSJ co-founder, believes the two spectacular weeks in the desert are proof that the North American nations are moving towards a higher level of sport.

“It never would have crossed my mind that we’d be where we are today, but I’m very proud,” he said of what MLSJ has become in just three years with the help of venues like DIHP. “Without partners like Steve and Matt [Morrissey], and our entire Major League team, it wouldn’t happen. I think bigger stuff is coming because as a group and as a continent we’re pushing in the same direction and it’s making a difference.”

The Trelawny Trailblazers, DIHP Roadrunners, and Team Helios took home additional cash bonuses that helped bring the prize money in the team final to $1 million, matching the prize money in the CSI5* Coachella Cup the week prior, and making Desert Holiday the biggest it had ever been, with aspirations to just keep growing.

Paul O’Shea Trots and Pats his Way to Victory in $76,000CAD CSI2* Grand Prix

Paul O’Shea (IRL) just recently retook the ride on Hellcat, a mare owned by Eye Candy LLC. Though the mare was tricky to get right in his time with the ride beforehand, he seems to have really mastered exactly what she needs, taking the win Saturday in the $76,000CAD MeadowGrove Farm CSI2* Grand Prix.

“Hellcat has a lot of character,” O’Shea said of the 12-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare. “She’s an overachiever; she really wants to give 120 percent. Most of the time it’s just toning it down. I did ride her for a year and we had good success half the time. I started with her again 6 weeks ago and now I’m really trying to do as little as possible.”

Paul O’Shea (IRL) and Hellcat. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Doing as little as possible when sitting on a 1200-pound animal navigating a course of jumps set at 1.45m is no easy task, but O’Shea has learned the two tricks that please Hellcat.

“Basically when I’m on her I just trot and pat her,” he explained. “Two things, that’s about it. I don’t really ask her to do anything, just try to keep her relaxed. She seems happy, because if I try to work her too much she kind of boils over. I try to pat her and trot her and just keep her happy. Since I’m back riding her she’s gotten a lot more consistent and has given me a lot.”

Paul O’Shea (IRL) and Hellcat. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

Consistency was important to get the clear round over the initial track, but taking the win was going to take a fairly drastic approach. Amanda Derbyshire (GBR) and Cornwall BH were first to go over the short course and put in a blazing fast jump-off, leaving the remaining nine pairs to catch them. None could until O’Shea, though. Her time of 37.37 seconds was improved to 35.83 seconds, and O’Shea remained at the top until the class came to a close. Nayel Nassar (EGY) and El Conde, owned by Evergate Stables LLC, took third.

“Amanda was first so I saw her and obviously she was extremely quick,” O’Shea remarked. “The only thing I saw was she did nine strides after the double. I thought there would be an eight there and that definitely helped me to see her go. You have to believe you can do it. Hellcat is an experienced mare and she’s naturally quick across the ground and jumps, so that was helpful.”

Paul O’Shea (IRL) topped the podium, pictured with Susie Schroer of MeadowGrove Farm. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

O’Shea has an impressive string at the moment, with horses for every purpose along the Major League Show Jumping tour.

“I have Squirt Gun for the teams, and he’s a super team horse,” he elaborated. “I’m very lucky to have him. He’s the ideal team horse because he’s very consistent and a naturally very fast horse. I couldn’t ask for a better partner for the team events. I have Imerald for the grand prixs. He jumped very nicely last night. He had one down but that was my mistake. He’s in great form; he’s 15 turning 16 but still he feels in great shape and hopefully he’ll be happy to keep jumping for a long time more.”

Show jumping concludes for Desert Holiday on Sunday with the $50,000 Whittier Trust Grand Prix.

Sydnie Young Masters DIHP Adult Equitation Challenge

Sydnie Young wasn’t ready for her equitation career to end with her junior years, so she’s making a habit of adult equitation, taking the win in Saturday’s DIHP Adult Equitation Challenge, sponsored by Riata Designs.

Aboard Couer de Lion, a horse she’s had for many years, Young topped the field in the single-round class, a class she looks forward to every week.

Sydnie Young and Couer de Lion. Photo by High Desert Sport Photo

“I started in equitation when I was younger,” she said of her beginnings. “I started riding when I was 9 and I’ve done the equitation since then. I’ve done all the medals, I’ve gone back east once [for medal finals], and I did Onondarka and all the California medal finals growing up.”

With all the experience, there’s nothing the DIHP Adult Equitation Challenge can throw Young’s way that she’s not prepared for. But her experience combined with knowing her horse extremely well is what’s put them in a favorable position for classes like these.

“I’d say my favorite thing about the equitation is the horse I get to ride,” she said of Coeur de Lion. “He is the best and since I get to ride him that’s why I want to keep doing the eq. And I just love the technical part of it and all the tests you get to do. It keeps it interesting.”

The horse wasn’t intended to stay in the stable forever, but after their relationship really blossomed, it became clear he wasn’t going anywhere.

“I got him when he was 5 so I’ve had him for six or seven years,” Young said of her relationship with the horse. “He was supposed to be an investment and we’ve actually kept him. He does all the things. He’s a very trustworthy horse, he’s super comfortable and very easy to get along with.”

As for goals, Young plans to keep doing what she’s doing, but continue improving as she goes. “I’d say my goals are just staying consistent and keeping up to date on my riding. Each time I go in and I work on different things so I want to keep up with everything as I continue showing.”

For her win, both Young and trainer Jan Humphrey received a brand new hat from Riata Designs.